It’s only a short ride from Seminyak to Ubud on the Indonesian island of Bali, but the change is dramatic. Like many people who go to Bali, we’ve always been used to sunset-chasing on the beaches of Seminyak or gazing out over the cliffs in Uluwatu. But Ubud has always held a mystical allure. Bali has such extraordinary variety—rice fields, mountains, villages and temples—but what other mystery could Ubud hold, as the cultural heart of this beautiful Indonesian island?
There really is no better place to explore Bali than from the beautiful award-winning Amandari resort, perched above the Ayung River and nestled discreetly into the verdant rainforest near the village of Kedewatan. This five-star resort and spa is the second Aman resort to be built and a trailblazer in sustainable luxury.
From the beaches to the villages of Ubud
After an hour’s drive, we felt like the driver had taken a wrong turn, going down a lane which seemed to lead us to someone’s house. We looked at each other—could this be right? But the car continued down the lane past a group of children who peered in at the windows curiously and started to play alongside the car. Suddenly, we took a sharp right off the dirt track and came to a halt in the grand open-air lobby of the Amandari, designed after a village meeting place (known as a wantilan).
The village concept in Bali is of highly defined ideas of the private and the public. Each family retains its own privacy with a wall to defend the house.
—Peter Muller, Amandari architect
In fact, the entire resort resembles an Indonesian village, with stone steps, lotus ponds and shrines. Many hotels have tried to replicate this peaceful tropical atmosphere, but the Amandari attention to detail is outstanding. Our unexpected arrival is true praise in itself how the hotel blends effortlessly into and interacts with the local surrounds. This is not an ostentatious resort, but rather organic and sublime.
Paradise overlooking the emerald Ayung Valley
The Amandari is one of five Aman resorts in Indonesia. Having spent three days on the shores of Legian and Seminyak full of cars, motorbikes, tourists and music, the Amandari is immediate shelter for the mind, body and soul. We eagerly made our way to our Pool Suite to enjoy a good night’s rest, but not before enjoying the lush walled garden and swimming pool.
We got up as the dawn was breaking, hopping into the car for a few minutes before getting onto our bicycles and then riding along tiny stone pathways across the luscious green rice paddies. A blanket of green, stretching as far as the eye can see, made us quite forget where we were. We journeyed on past a banyan tree and up a hill, past temples and the farmers markets. The locals were getting on with their daily routines, quite oblivious to what we were doing.
Melding Balinese luxury with culture, adventure and R&R
The next day we went white-water river rafting on the Ayung River—a class II category—with the gorge walls rising high on either side of the valley. It was an exhilarating experience and physically quite tough! We were left in need of the Amandari Signature spa treatment, which combines the Balinese Melukat purification ceremony with traditional treatments and products. A full-body exfoliation using black rice is followed by a body wrap of volcanic clay and a head massage. The spa treatment menu is undergoing a revamp incorporating sustainable ointments and products.
In the evening, we stopped by a local temple that was putting on a performance of Kunti Sraya—a powerful and evocative dance about the Barong. This lion-like mythical creature with a long swayback and curved tail is the king of the spirits; its enemy is Rangda, queen of demons and witches. A small village band played alongside, filling the night air with the unique sounds of the Balinese gamelan orchestra called gambang. It was powerful and intensely moving.
The Youth Organisation of Kedewatan Village was asked to perform part of a play in the lobby of the hotel one night, and on another night the village children gave a cultural dance performance. They are part of the “Amandari family”, and even come to practice at the lotus pond next to the restaurant before their monthly performances.
It’s all in the details
The Amandari can arrange many activities for you and all the family, from elephant rides to trekking through the dramatic terraced landscapes and rural Balinese villages. For the less active, there are cultural and temple tours, including the stunning Pura Gunung Kawi. This temple in Sebatu village has beautiful spring pools, and the Balinese bathe in holy water from its fountains.
The hotel really will make every effort to ensure you have a beautiful experience. It was Valentine’s Day when we were there, and I had mentioned in passing to someone how nice it would be to have a quiet dinner. Three hours later, my girlfriend and I were sitting by ourselves, looking out over the Ayung Valley. Live music played softly in the background and fresh flowers adorned the table, which was a pleasant surprise.
Even the farewell was effortless
As we were leaving to the airport, the Amandari kindly gave us a car to send us on our way. We got to the airport and I was expecting to spend some time figuring out which terminal we were going to and time wasn’t on our side. And then, with one surreptitious phone call, our driver introduced to us to a representative of the next hotel we were staying at, and we were effortlessly handed over.
By the end of my stay, I realised that the lovely details like this and our romantic dinner were almost a minimum standard of excellence the Amandari maintains. Blissful.
If you run out of ideas for things to do in Ubud, here are six must-sees for your trip to the beautiful island of Bali.
Written by: Max Johnson